*. I have to start off by saying what version of Alexander I’ll be talking about here. There was an original theatrical cut that ran 175 minutes. The first DVD version was the “Director’s Cut,” which, in what may have been a first, was actually shorter than the theatrical cut, coming in at 167 minutes (18 minutes were cut and 9 added). There was then a “Final Cut” (Alexander Revisited) that ran a whopping 214 minutes but which was not, alas, final. An “Ultimate Cut” was released in 2013 which was 206 minutes.
*. The movie I watched was the Director’s Cut. I’m told the longer versions are better. I’ll never know. I thought it was too long at 167 minutes. Indeed, I think it would have been too long at any length, as it’s a bad movie.
*. But despite all that, it is a bit of fun, sort of like Showgirls done up as a historical costume epic. Every step of the way one can understand Oliver Stone’s creative decisions, and also how badly they backfire so as to only make a bigger mess.
*. Take the accents. Macedonian was a dialect of Greek that was all but incomprehensible to Greeks in Alexander’s day, so in order to reflect this Stone says (on the DVD commentary) that he wanted Irish actors doing the Macedonian parts because of the noticeable lilt. He also thought that playing the ancients with plummy British accents was a cliché. But a lilt is not what Macedonian would have sounded like, and Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins, Brian Blessed, and Christopher Plummer don’t have Irish accents anyway. Meanwhile, what sort of an accent is Angelina Jolie’s Olympias trying to affect? Epirote? Transylvanian?
*. Then there’s the treatment of Alexander’s homosexuality. It’s hard to fault Stone for introducing this, as that’s certainly there in the record and he ended up taking some flack for it. But then he plays coy with the whole idea. The thing is, Alexander seems not to have been much interested in sex at all, but preferred the companionship of men. But here his male friends/lovers are presented as looking like drag queens while Roxana (Rosario Dawson) is a babe. It’s hard to figure this out.
*. Finally there’s the matter of historical accuracy. I suppose some amount of condensation had to take place, with several of Alexander’s battles being collapsed into just the couple shown on screen. But this does play havoc with the record. Not to mention having the Battle of the Hydaspes taking place in a jungle.
*. The jungle may be a nod to Stone’s Vietnam, as Alexander is presented here as being on a mission, however misguided, of benevolent imperialism: “to free the people of the world.” Just as his overthrow of the Persian Empire may have some connection to the Gulf Wars. But again this makes a mush of history. To be sure, every age has imagined an Alexander in its own image. The one settled on here, of Alexander as sensitive warrior in the cause of multiculturalism is, I think, ridiculous, but it’s part of this same tradition.
*. Despite the running time much is left out. And much of what’s left out is rather important. I’m disappointed at not seeing any of the siege of Tyre, but that’s at least understandable from the point of view of production costs. But why no visit to the Siwa Oasis? Or burning of Persepolis? These are absolutely crucial parts of Alexander’s story that would go a long way into providing some psychological insight. Where is this Alexander’s pothos?
*. Perhaps pothos (or longing) was something Colin Farrell just couldn’t project. He is, I think obviously, miscast. But he isn’t helped by hair and make-up that have him looking like a refugee from an ’80s metal band. Or a script that doesn’t give him many opportunities to man up. This meek and sensitive Alexander just doesn’t wash. Alexander was a genuine hard case, and with all apologies to Farrell, he’s too damn pretty.
*. Oliver Stone is an odd cat, and seems to be getting odder all the time. I appreciate his passion for projects like this, but by this point in his career I think he was creatively shot. Still, it’s a movie that took someone with his kind of mad vision to make, and then continue for so many years to re-make. I think what he ended up with was a disaster, albeit with some wonderful moments, highlighted by some good battle sequences and Jolie’s unmissable, height-of-camp performance (“In my womb I carried my avenger!”). It was a box office bomb, but for some reason sold like hot cakes on DVD (a fact that may have played into its endless revising and reissuing). I think it’s very much a work of its time, which already seems hard to remember since so much has changed. And I doubt I’ll ever want to go back to it again.